Gareth Chilcott: Bath will find it difficult to replace Olly Barkley
When Olly Barkley returned to Bath from Gloucester in 2009, I think the majority of Bath supporters assumed that he would be spending the rest of his career with the club.
So they will have been disappointed to discover this week that he is leaving the club in two games’ time to join Racing Metro in the French Top 14, particularly as it had looked as if he would be a major player at the Rec this season.
He won the game for Bath at Worcester on the opening day with his kicking, and, while that is a dominant part of his game, he offers a fair bit more than that.
We may never know the truth behind the move, but when Gary Gold says “every now and then an offer lands on the table that a bloke just can’t refuse” it suggests Barkley has been lured to Paris by the Euros on offer. For the loyal Bath supporters who see Barkley as one of their own, it will be disappointing that he is leaving to take on this new challenge.
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Has he gone for the money? Has he been headhunted? Were Bath made an offer they couldn’t refuse to release him from his contract? Was it a case of Gold not seeing him as someone to lead Bath on to a new level? We may never know – but what we do know is that Bath need to replace him with someone who is equally good, which will not be easy.
Barkley will be able to play in the next two games – starting at London Irish today – but his exit will mean yet another of the club’s old guard has moved on. The squad is almost unrecognisable from a few years ago, but in many ways that needed to happen as it is a long time since Bath won a trophy.
Bath against London Irish will perhaps not serve up the most attractive of rugby matches – but the return of Francois Louw will help Bath immensely, and I think having him back in the side may just tip the scales Bath’s way.
Gloucester-Wasps at Kingsholm this afternoon has the makings of a cracking game. Both sides are notoriously good attacking teams, while Wasps, in their recent game at Bath, were woeful in defence, which leads me to think today’s game could be very open.
Wasps are a better team than perhaps they have shown, while Gloucester will be eager to claim a first home victory of the season, and I can see the home side doing enough to win an entertaining match.
Gloucester drew at Worcester last weekend, and I think they will have been happy enough to come out of an away derby not having lost the game, even if they did not manage to win. I think they should be too strong for Wasps today, although it could be entertaining.
Last weekend, Bristol did exactly what I had hoped they would: they went out against Cornish Pirates and effectively said, ‘what happened last season has gone’, and got some sweet revenge.
They outplayed Pirates in front of the television cameras and basically said, ‘you are no worry to us’, while reminding Newcastle that they remain a force to be reckoned with in this season’s Championship.
Winning 29-17 was the perfect result and the perfect response, both to last season’s debacle in Penzance and their opening-day defeat to Newcastle. They have shown everyone they are serious contenders.
The Championship chucks up some really tricky games, though, and tomorrow’s trip to Leeds is another of those. Leeds have underachieved since their relegation, there is no doubt about that, but you always feel with them that it is just a matter of time before they start competing again.
Bristol lost up there last season and Leeds will make it tough for them again tomorrow – but I saw enough quality and character from Bristol last weekend to believe they can win this weekend.